Saturday, October 29, 2016

the trumpenproletariat

Yeah, it's rich coming from the national review, but that line about the trumpenproletariat liking him because he makes them feel good (like Oxycontin) has a lot of truth in it. You know this if you've ever met a core Trumpite.* If you work in a factory, or on a farm, or live outside the city, they're hard to avoid. And the core can't shut up about him. Yes, our ideology is ultimately informed by our material situation, but the trumpenproletariat are not giving us a decent critique of NAFTA. They've largely worked out that Trump is completely talking shit when he says he'll "bring the jobs back," like he's some sort of economic necromancer. It's building a wall that gives them a little poke in their pants. "Make the country great again" mostly means you don't wait but five minutes before you send the tanks in for people blocking a pipeline. Of course we still have our brutal crackdowns and state murders, streaming live, but every day one of these protests is tolerated, every football player who takes a knee, is another day where the real world disrupts the ideal one. You have to bring them back in line, so they know their place, like the good old days. Of course Trump could never do this, but it's enough that he isn't afraid to talk about it.

If you actually look at Trump's policy proposals, the ones you can make sense of anyway, they're the same old (bipartisan) anti-government nonsense. His idea to rebuild the country's infrastructure is to incentivize private industry to rebuild the nation through subsidizing them via tax cuts. Wow! What a populist vision! I'll admit I'm thoroughly enjoying watching the neocons squirm and embrace Clinton because of Trump's unwillingness to do what he's told, but this is more a reflection of how awful he is as a person rather than any sort of anti-interventionist ideology. The few times Trump accidentally says something reasonable regarding foreign policy he will ruin it by ranting on about carpet bombing or using nukes against some rag tag group of jihadists.

(That's not to say Clinton's ideas are much better. Clinton is a complete hawk, much more so than Obama, and has been nothing short of awful in regards to Syria. The Democrats are so goddamn tone deaf to the mood of the country right now I can't bring myself to do anything other than ignore them. I thought i'd never see a bigger wasted opportunity than when they pushed through the the ACA, but it appears they will do one better by making us sit through years of Clinton scandals, real and imagined, when they had a historic chance to basically nominate anyone and win.)

Trump is about identity, which is largely but not exclusively white. With that identity comes a romanticization of the past, "memberberries" as South Park puts it. A lot of that has to do with post-war economic security that is no longer here. (It is indeed the loss of that economic security that has allowed Trumpites, and identitarians of all sorts, to flourish.) It is tempting to think Trump ultimately represents a longing for that economic order, albeit in a nasty racist/nationalist rightwing way. That at least gives us hope that we could channel some of that anger for more positive purposes. I don't have that hope. Trump isn't populist enough to stray too from economic orthodoxy, and core Trumpites will openly laugh away Trump's repeated policy contradictions because they primarily care about what he represents, which isn't consciously about economics, and would almost certainly be there even with a more favorable class balance. The Trumpites will need to be put back in their place at some point regardless of whether or not someone is able to conjure up those "middle class" jobs.


*regarding the term "Trumpite" and/or "trumpenproletariat:" I do note a difference between someone who plugs their nose and votes for Trump and someone who is a core supporter. A small difference. It is extremely hard to imagine being able to plug your nose well enough to avoid that smell.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Pipeline Protests

Despite being one of the country's top producers of oil, there are only a couple refineries in North Dakota. One, which was built to take Bakken high sulfur sour crude and turn it into diesel to be sold directly to local farmers, was recently sold at a loss. There were plans for more, one near where I grew up in Devils Lake, one proposed on the Fort Berthold Reservation that likely won't be built for a bunch of dramatic reasons, as well as others. 

With most of it not heading directly to market, North Dakota oil needs to be shipped to be refined. This means sending it to huge refineries in places like Texas and Oklahoma. Most of it goes by rail. This was a huge problem for other rail traffic (primarily agriculture) during the oil boom. While it was a problem, and a pipeline was brought up then, profitability was high enough to deal with the rail congestion. Now, with the needing to be heavily refined nasty ND oil barely worth anything, the pipeline is seen as the most cost effective way to get the oil to the refineries. It would be pumped to Illinois where it would link up with existing pipelines. This is the main reason we're seeing the push to build now. 

Local farmers, from South Dakota and Iowa as well, had voiced concerns since the beginning of the proposed pipeline. The idea that the government could use eminent domain to take away land from its owner is not a popular idea in this parts, regardless of its intended use. In this respect, the Standing Rock Sioux have been extremely successful in their cause by publicizing and at least delaying the construction. One of society's most marginalized groups is getting international media coverage for demanding a basic democratic right, and that is absolutely wonderful. The reaction to the protest is disgusting, as authorities have used brute force against peaceful demonstrators and showed little concern for historical sites sacred to the local community. The protest also, however, serves as a example of what is lacking when it comes to fighting climate change. One of the main strengths of the protest, the emotions tied to the horrendous treatment of Native Americans in this country, also helps keep the discussion secured in identity politics. Many on the right, emboldened by Trump's scary appeal to white identity, are eager to find any chance to degenerate a movement they see as ethnically foreign. (Of course the irony in this particular situation is certainly lost on them.) The issue isn't about how much oil should we use and who controls it so much as it is whether you are "for" or "against" Native Americans. Have they been historically mistreated and deserve compensation or are they freeloaders exploiting the past for personal gain? To the extent our use of oil is mentioned, it's usually in a disingenuous way. Opponents of the pipeline talk as though blocking it from being built will stop our reliance on fossil fuels. Proponents act as though building a pipeline will free us from "foreign oil." At this point the back and forth is just theatrics aimed at each side's supporters more than anything else.       

As mentioned there is a reason the push to build the pipeline is coming now, when the price of oil is drastically lower than what had become normal. A pipeline is the most cost effective way to move oil, and even more so in this particular situation. As much as I love seeing oil titans squirm when they can't get what they want, we should be honest. Just as there is no "clean" coal, there is no "good" way to transport oil. Spills will happen no matter what method is used and I haven't been able to find any persuasive evidence that says one way is much safer than the other. Whatever short term gains are to be had by blocking this pipeline will likely to be lost when passions cool and oil prices rise. Then we are back to farmers not being able to move the food we all rely on because the rails are full of the oil we all rely on. I see nothing in that almost inevitable scenario that fights global warming. We get some protests to remember and the oil keeps flowing.  

Although it got next to no coverage, even within left media, during the boom some smart state legislators had talked about a building a state owned refinery. This would build upon North Dakota's legacy of bucking private power. (There still is a state bank and flour mill which add millions to the public funds each year.) At first thought refining oil seems to contradict the goal of reducing oil usage. But as with so many complex problems, solutions lie in the contradictions. If we want to reduce our fossil fuel usage, we first need pubic control of the processes that make it a viable fuel source. So long as these are in private hands, and there is money to be made, we simply will not be able to fundamentally reduce our impact on the earth's climate. The talks of a state owned refinery went no where in a deeply reactionary state legislature. But there was also no movement demanding it. This is the direction the current fight needs to take if it wants to be more than just another fond memory idealistic radicals look back on.